Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skills Hak files bogus DMCA takedowns on Youtube

In the last post I made about Gemini CDS, I had linked to a video on Youtube that shown an instance of copybotting being done while the content that was ripped was supposedly "protected" by Gemini CDS(Before anyone accuses me of anything, no I was not the one who made the video). Shortly after I published the post, the video was taken down from Youtube "due to a copyright claim by Simone Phuc".

At first, I had merely thought that the takedown was because of the music track that was in the video. Later I remembered that in those sort of cases, Youtube merely removes the audio. So it wasn't the music track.

So then I started searching for similar videos. There were a number of videos, yet all were completely taken down by this same "Simone Phuc". Why? The videos themselves did not violate anyone's copyright(music tracks notwithstanding). And for certain, the person who made all these takedowns could not own all the products that were shown copybotted. But there was one obvious link in all the videos: These videos documented Gemini CDS failures.

So the only possibility is that Simone Phuc is Skills Hak, and she is attempting to stop embarrassing evidence that her product is failing from reaching enough of the public.

This is absolutely wrong, not only for Skills but also for her clients because those videos are clear, documented proof that copybotting had occurred, and the victims affected could use them to prosecute the thugs. Skills/Simone's takedowns then amount to obstruction of justice, and also abusing the DMCA(even if Skills tries to claim trade secrets, DMCA is *only*for copyright claims).

To Skills, I say this: Do the right thing and stop abusing the law to hide what are obvious product failures. What you should have done was inform the victims of the copybotting incidents and show them the videos as proof. This would actually help you and your product because it would show customers you actually care about them and their investments in SL.

To Gemini CDS users, I say this: Because Gemini CDS doesn't detect or prevent the actual act of copybotting, you may or may not have been the victim of copybotting in those videos. But since Skills has taken down the videos, you might never know unless you come across copybotted versions of your content in SL(which at that point is too late). There's no good reason to be victimized twice.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Imprudence Developers take a stand against the Third-Party Viewer Policy

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of attending a "weekly ImpDev meetup", where Imprudence viewer developers and those(like me) interested in it's development would meet and discuss various issues, like bugs, feature ideas, and anything else related to Imprudence. The meeting, however, turned out to be the most important meeting not just for Imprudence, but for other third-party viewers as well.

The meeting was about how the Imprudence developers should respond to Linden Lab's final wording of their third-party viewer policy. Earlier today, Jacek Antonelli broke the news of their decided response. While it echoes the general response of the TPV developer community, it states it in a very professional and respectful manner towards users, developers and even Linden Lab. Jacek also announced that while Imprudence cannot agree to the TPV policy as a whole, they will honor the parts of the policy that are reasonable and do not legally endanger the project.

This response is already having a ripple effect, as it has seemed to inspire Luna Viewer developer, Fred Rookstown, to continue developing Luna but with similar changes as Imprudence. It would also seem other viewer developers will follow suit, with the possible exception of the Emerald developers as they may be secretly negotiating with the Lab to get some sort of exemption from the policy in exchange for some changes made to Emerald(most likely gutting import/export, grid manager functionalities and a few controversial features).

While this marks a very sad day for SL, conversely it's a red-letter day for OpenSim-based virtual worlds who will benefit from the increased viewer support and likely incoming users. The ball is now in Linden Lab's court, and how(or even if) they respond to this will set the status quo in SL open development possibly for years to come(if SL manages to last that long, though).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Victoriana & Tinytoriana: A case study of how SL is losing it's soul

Very early this morning, the Alphaville Herald broke the news that the "mayor" of the Victoriana and Tinytoriana communities is to leave Second Life for OpenSim, as will the communities.

The reasons he gave for his departure read off as an indictment of the Lab's mismanagement on nearly every level. Here's the money quote:
This lacklustre response from Linden has brought to light a great deal of uncertainty in our little community about the future of Victoriana and the Linden grid itself. I’ve seen a number of people in the past few weeks re-evaluate their own personal investment in SecondLife, and sadly a number of them have chosen to leave the grid for fear of losing everything they’ve invested money in. It’s a very very sad thing to see good people go (especially long-termers who’ve been around for a while) for fear of "what will happen to them" come the next maintenance rollout/asset server failure/grid issue.

That pretty much says it all. This person had invested $30,000 over two years+ to acquire 13 sims and build a sizeable community on it. Common sense would dictate that the Lab should have given his problems some modicum of attention and care due to his very considerable investment towards Lab employees' paychecks. But he didn't, and this was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back".

I wish Mr. Lindsay and the Victoriana/Tinytoriana community the best of luck in relocating to a new home. While I've never had the pleasure of visiting your community, I hope to do so during my travels to other grids.

The Lab, on the other hand, should be very ashamed. Communities are the lifeblood and soul of the grid, and should be fostered with reasonable care and attention. This is a fact of the metaverse that seems to be ever lost to the Lab under Kingdon's reign.

I still hold out hope the Lab can stop it's looming downward spiral into financial ruin, but with all the recent bad decisions it's been making, it's becoming much harder to hold on to.

My comment on opensource-dev maiing list

Just a quick post to show my first comments in the opensource-dev mailing list. It's a response to Joe Linden about his views on the current controversy surrounding the third-party viewer policy:

Tony Agudo to Joe, opensource-dev

(Delurking here just to throw in my $L2; standard IANAL disclaimer)

Joe, most of the TPV Policy *is* reasonable and nobody(except obviously malicious viewer creators) is disputing that requiring reasonable, common sense responsibilities to keep viewers honest is bad at all, it's simply that Section 7(d) can open a can of worms for third-party viewer devs by not clearly stating something along the lines of "You assume all risks, expenses, and defects of any Third-Party Viewers that you use, develop, or distribute in the context of the broader sections of this Policy. Linden Lab shall not be responsible or liable for any Third-Party Viewers". Without a clarification such as that, as an example, a third-party viewer user who believes the viewer is causing harm to his/her SL experience(supposing the "harm" is merely a glitch or bug that occurs in normal development, or even if it's not the viewer but the user thinks it is), that user can point to specifically that section of the TPV Policy and claim "By this, you *are* legally liable for my problems, I can actually sue you". The Lab's own ToS completely disclaims responsibility for the official viewer and has pretty much protected the Lab against such actions in a majority of cases. It's what has kept the development cycle in the Lab from becoming a legal minefield, I'm sure you agree. What the third-party devs are asking is that that legal threat shouldn't be thrust on them via the TPV Policy and it be made clear and unambiguous if they're to continue developing for the benefit of the SL grid without fear of nagging lawsuits. That's not an unreasonable request, is it?

(*going back to lurking*)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Third-Party Viewer Policy: Take 2, but still as shoddy

According to Tateru Nino at Massively, the Lab has made and released changes to the third-party viewer policy at the request of the opensource-dev community. Sadly, however, they still f*cked it up.

The only change I see, on a casual read is this sentence in the third paragraph of the preamble: "This Policy does not place any restriction on modification or use of our viewer source code that we make available under the GPL."

But still, that sentence directly conflicts with Section 7(d), "You assume all risks, expenses, and defects of any Third-Party Viewers that you use, develop, or distribute.", which violates the GPL's disclaimer of liability.

The best and shortest response I've heard from the open source community makes what they think of the "rewrite" crystal-clear: "You first", as in "If you want us to take responsibility for our viewers by violating the wording of the GPL, then change your ToS(Section 5.4, specifically) to do the same for your own viewer as well".

Now that the Lab has stated that they will not be planning any further modifications to the policy, the ball is now in the third-party devs' court to decide what to do in light of it. Boy Lane(developer of Rainbow viewer), and Fred Rookstown(developer of the Luna viewer) have already stated their intents(Both have simply called it quits on their viewers). Tomorrow the Imprudence developers will meet in-world to discuss what to do regarding the policy, but there's a strong possibility that most popular viewers may abandon SL altogether and throw their weight into OpenSim-based worlds in order to avoid being shackled down by LL.

As TigroSpottystripes Katsu put it: "It's own-foot season, and this time LL brought the big guns."

Monday, March 22, 2010

The hitchhiker's guide to the metaverse

(Apologies to Douglas Adams, but the title fits what I've been doing)

Lately I've been hopping around various OpenSim-based grids to research which one(s) would be viable replacements given that Second Life may be irreversibly heading in the same direction that There went. So here's the rundown of the grids I've been to as of this writing:
  • OpenLife: OpenLife was the first OpenSim-based grid to have an in-world currency, and that alone set up OpenLife as the first possible competitor to Second Life. Unfortunately, the OpenLife folks had forked OpenSim and chose not to release their changes back to the OpenSim community. While this is technically allowed because of OpenSim's BSD license, this act had basically turned OpenLife into a non-OpenSim grid.
  • InWorldz: A currently small but growing OpenSim-derived grid similar to OpenLife. You're actually pretty likely to catch the founders and devs of this grid right from the first time you login to InWorldz, which is nice.
  • OSGrid: The first non-Linden Lab grid I've ever been to, and without a doubt the biggest OpenSim-based grid. While it currently lacks an in-world currency(intentional because it's a non-profit grid), it's more or less ground zero for OpenSim development.
  • ReactionGrid: And for something completely different, there's ReactionGrid. ReactionGrid is a lot like OSGrid, but with some very distinct differences: ReactionGrid has a solid revenue model by being an OpenSim grid hosting company, their OpenSim grids are hosted on Microsoft's Hyper-V technology, and grid operators are free to modify their grid server functionality if they wish. ReactionGrid is targeted at educators and businesses for collaboration, but there 's nothing stopping grid operators into purposing their grids for other uses.
While I'm not a big fan of Microsoft technology, I have to give it up to the ReactionGrid folks. Their business model is solid and professional, but they don't gouge the customer like how SL does with land(Same can be said of most other OpenSim-based grids that have region purchasing options, of course). OSGrid is where you want to be if you want to keep up with OpenSim development and testing, and freely experiment around. OpenLife and InWorldz basically aim at providing an economy experience similar to SL, minus the land gouging.

This is by no means an exhaustive list or review of virtual worlds, just my opinions of those I've checked out so far. There's several others I'm interested in checking out, so stay tuned for a "Part 2" blog post in the near future.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How Gemini CDS fails to stop copybotting

Yet again, there's another cache of apparently copybotted content being sold on XStreetSL. And this has been discovered long after Gemini CDS was released into the wild to prey on the paranoia of content creators. Wasn't this "wonderful tool" supposed to be the "silver bullet" against copybotting?

No, it's not, because of it's biggest and intentional flaw: it does not stop or detect the act of copybotting at all. Yes, it's stated purpose is to merely detect "copybot viewers", but users are hyping it up beyond belief(see "silver bullet" reference above).

A copybotter can get around CDS via a few methods. The easiest (though costly) method makes use of online marketplaces that use "magic boxes" for delivery. All the copybotter has to do is go to a sandbox or other place where CDS is not used, purchase a copy of the content to be copybotted via website, then copybot the item once delivered and sell it to recoup the monies used to purchase the original copy. So if you're a merchant at XStreetSL or any of the other major online marketplaces, CDS won't protect your online listings, even if your "magic boxes" are within proximity of a CDS.

Another method of course is to play the cat-and-mouse game where copybotters continually update their ripper clients to avoid CDS detection, and Skills Hak has to update CDS in response. This will eventually end in one side "giving up" out of frustration or exhaustion, as all cat-and-mouse games do. My bet on this is that Skills will eventually give up, once people start to realize what a sham CDS is, given the other methods below.

Also CDS cannot prevent thieves from camming into a CDS-protected parcel and copybotting that way. Or stealing textures, animations and sounds by obtaining the UUID of the content via LSL or digging through the texture cache directories of any viewer.

Then there's using GLIntercept in conjunction with the official viewer. It's highly doubtful that CDS can detect GLIntercept, unless CDS does somehow force a user's viewer to peek around the filesystem and report to the CDS webservers what it finds. This would be in violation of the Second Life ToS if it were the case.

If you're still thinking CDS does work, take a look at this video I found after Googling "Gemini CDS Ban Relay":

I rest my case, folks.

Update: Apparently the main detection method of Gemini CDS has been discovered. It triggers the viewer to contact a specific URL, where the site weakly encrypts the details of the avatar and the user-agent HTTP request header details(which is how the viewers are detected), then sends the information off to Skills' secret database. This means defeating Gemini CDS detection(at least at this level) is now as trivial as blocking the URL at the router/firewall level(or by disabling Quicktime with the -noquicktime command-line option).

Update 2: The video I linked to has apparently been taken down due to a DMCA copyright claim. At first I thought it was simply because of the music track that accompanied the video, but normally that would just result in the audio of the video being disabled. But apparently Skills Hak and the Gemini staff are actively trying to suppress videos that demonstrate how ineffective CDS is at stopping copybotting. The videos themselves do not infringe *any* of Skills or Gemini's copyrights, so the takedowns amount to abuse of the DMCA and as suppression of free speech. <snarky sarcasm>I guess Skills has been taking DMCA lessons from Kalel Venkman</snarky>.

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